Tears, Idle Tears by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Alfred Lord Tennyson

Well, I have proven very predictable.  Following my usual pattern for the Deal Me In Challenge of getting off to a great and very consistent start, I then quickly fell behind schedule.  Do I care?  Yes!  I’m usually a very consistent person — a loyal friend, a hard worker, a steady blogger (yes, this is important too!) —- so it really bothers me when I don’t stick to a challenge.  However, I have some very consistent blogger friends whom I won’t mention, whose dedication to challenges continually convicts me (oh okay, I will mention them —- O, I’m referring to you!), so with their gentle reminders, I’ve decided to pick up where I left off and hopefully get some momentum to finish this challenge well.

Finally, oh finally! I drew a poem, my first poem of the challenge so far in 11 choices. What are the odds of that?  Perhaps I should buy a lottery ticket!

Written in 1847 as a song from one of his longer poems The Princess, Tears, Idle Tears, a lyric poem, was composed in blank verse and is said to be one of the few poems where Tennyson conveys his personal sentiments in his works.  Tennyson claims he wrote it after a visit to Tintern Abbey, which was abandoned in 1536 and for him held “the passion of the past, abiding in the transient.”  He said, it was “full for me of its bygone memories ……”

Tintern Abbey
courtesy of Saffron Blaze
Tears, Idle Tears by Alfred Lord Tennyson

     Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,
Tears from the depth of some divine despair
Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,
In looking on the happy Autumn-fields,
And thinking of the days that are no more.
      Fresh as the first beam glittering on a sail,
That brings our friends up from the underworld,
Sad as the last which reddens over one
That sinks with all we love below the verge;
So sad, so fresh, the days that are no more.
      Ah, sad and strange as in dark summer dawns
The earliest pipe of half-awaken’d birds
To dying ears, when unto dying eyes
The casement slowly grows a glimmering square;
So sad, so strange, the days that are no more.
      Dear as remember’d kisses after death,
And sweet as those by hopeless fancy feign’d
On lips that are for others; deep as love,
Deep as first love, and wild with all regret;
O Death in Life, the days that are no more!

Wow! I remember really liking this poem when I was younger but now it seems all melancholy and sad and depressing.  But really, should have I expected more from Tennyson based on my familiarity with one of this other poems (and one of my absolute favourites!), The Lady of Shallot? —- lots of crying out and isolation and cracking and curses …… no, why am I at all surprised?


Tinturn Abbey (inside)
source Wikipedia

So, now for my rather amateur analysis ……. the first aspect of the poem that stood out for me was his initial confusion.  He doesn’t recognize the tears or connect them with anything at first.  They come from deep within him.  Does that highlight man’s propensity to live a rather shallow life?  — to live in the moment without ever doing any deeper self-examination?  And does it also highlight how capricious time is; that it slips away without us even noticing?

The autumn setting gives the poem a melancholy feel as summer has passed, and the passing of summer means less sunshine and happy times, and the death of leaves and greenery as the scenery turns from bright colours and greens to a burnished and faded scene.

Regret is an obvious theme and Tennyson takes us to the underworld, which I assume is really the memories of the dead whom he loved, yet these memories bring him sadness. He is not focusing on the happiness experienced during those times, but the loss of them.

These memories now seem very far away to him, so much so that the very experiences he participated in now appear strange to him.  The casement is shrinking in his vision, perhaps the approach of death?

At least, he feels the memories are dear and sweet, but he acknowledges the death of those times, a death that has happened before he himself has died.  There is nothing uplifting in his remembrance.

Farringford, Tennyson’s residence of the Isle of Wright
source Wikipedia

Good heavens!  Yes, lots of tears and despair and sinking and sadness and strangeness and dying.  It would be fascinating to travel back in time and find out just what was going on in Tennyson’s life and head when he wrote it.

Next up for my Deal Me In Challenge is a children’s classic called Teddy’s Button by Amy LeFeuvre.


The Faerie Queene – Book II (Part I)

The Faerie Queene

Book II

The Legende of the Sir Gvyon
Of Temperaunce
Canto I
Guyon by Archimage abusd,
The Redcrosse knight awaytes,
Findes Mordant and Amauia slaine
With pleasures poisoned baytes.
source Wikiart
As soon as Archimago discovers that Redcrosse has departed, he uses secret means to escape from the dungeon.  There is nothing he likes better than tricking people and making them miserable and so he endeavours to ruin another life.  Coming upon a goodly knight, Guyon, accompanied by an old Palmer, Archimago leads him to a woman with rent clothes and dishevelled hair, and with his prompting, she reveals her rapist as the Redcrosse knight!  Guyon is astounded as he knows Redcrosse as an honourable knight, but there is nothing to it but to wreak revenge on his licentious behaviour.  He does not know, however that the woman is false Duessa who was found wandering by Archimago after Arthur had defeated Orgoglio.  
Yet as Guyon goes to attack Redcrosse, he has second thoughts upon seeing the cross on his shield, and begs his forgiveness.  He explains why they were almost foes, whereupon the Palmer approaches and blesses Redcrosse in his endeavours.  Plighting their goodwill, the knights go their own ways, Guyon and the Palmer meeting many challenges, until one day they come across a lamenting mother and child, but even more astounding, a bleeding woman with a baby playing in her lap and a corpse of a knight at her feet.  Removing the knife from her body and repairing her wounds, he inquires of her plight.  Her name is Amavia, and her husband Mordant left her pregnant to pursue exploits, but he is captured by the enchantress Acrasia, who lives in the Bower of Bliss and tempted him with immorality and pleasure.  Dressed as a pilgrim, she seeks her husband but he knows her not when she finds him.  They escape but not before Acrasia places a fatal curse on the man.  As Amavia finishes her story, she dies of grief and Guyon and the Palmer bury the couple, plotting revenge for the waste of these two lives.
Canto II
Babes bloudie hands may not be clensd,
the face of golden Meane.
Her sisters two Extremities:
striue her to banish cleane.

Allegory of Temperance (1685)
Luca Giordano
source Wikiart
Guyon, with compassion, attempts to wash the blood off the orphaned baby’s hands, yet they will not wash clean.  The Palmer explains that fountains and pools may have different properties and there is a story behind this one.  At this particular well, a nymph met Faunus, and fleeing and having no escape, Diana transformed her into a stone. The stone is shaped like a maid and the waters flow around like tears.  The baby’s hand cannot be cleansed by this well, but allows it to be a sacred symbol of his mother’s innocence.
Arriving at a castle inhabited by three women with different mothers, Guyon is welcomed by the middle sister, Medina, who leads him to a lovely bower.  However, the news of his arrival reaches the sisters who are entertaining their knights, Sir Hudibras and Sir Sans-loy, the latter who had tried to kidnap Una.  Before they can attack Guyon, they fall into battle among themselves, leaving Guyon to inquire as to what is happening.  When they see him, they fall upon him, but he defends himself quite adequately until Medina attempts to separate them with pleas and recriminations.  Finally they bow to her wise arguments and agree to dine with her, but the two sisters are unhappy.  Elissa refuses to eat, feeling the entertainment base, yet Perissa enjoys all in excess.  But Medina, with strong grace and behaviour, keeps all in check and inquires of Guyon’s purpose.  He is a knight of the Faerie Queene, on a mission with the Palmer to overcome false Acrasia. Then at Medina’s behest, he tells the story of Mordant and Amavia, until it is bedtime.
Canto III
Vaine Braggadocchio getting Guyons
horse is made the scorne
Of knighthood trew, and is of fayre
Bephoebe fowle forlorne.

Maidens picking flowers by a stream (1911)
John William Waterhouse
source Wikiart
Guyon names the orphaned child, Ruddymane, and leaves him with Medina to care for. Since his steed was stolen by a secret thief, he continues on foot to Acrasia.  But now the horse thief is revealed: Braggadocio, who comes upon a man, Trompart, and threatens him into becoming his servant, although we wonder if servant might be more clever than master?  They meet up with Archimago, who because of Braggadocio’s bearing, thinks he may be able to assist him in his search for Redcrosse and Guyon.  
He asks Trompart why his master has no sword, but the servant swears that he is a doughty knight even with only a spear.  Archimago suddenly blurts out his vengeful plan and the two promise to help, although Archimago is still concerned with Braggadocio’s lack of a sword.  In spite of Braggadocio’s bragging of his conquests without one, Archimago promises him King Arthur’s flaming sword, disappearing unexpectedly, severely scaring the master and servant.  With trepidation, they journey through a forest and discover a maiden, Belphoebe.  She is so astoundingly beautiful that to attempt to describe her would disgrace her beauty, and she is clad in lily white garments.  She inquires of Trompart if he has seen a deer which she had maimed, then seeing Braggadocio behind the bush where he’d crept in cowardice, thinking him game she moves to kill him yet is stayed by Trompart.  Braggadocio attempts flattery, asking why with her beauty she is not at court, yet Belphoebe instructs him that true honour is found in the woods doing honest labour.  When he tries to embrace her, she flees, and the two set off again, the poor horse disgusted with his ignoble burden.
Canto IV
Guyon does Furor bind in chaines,
and stops Occasion:
Deliuers Phedon, and therefore
by strife is rayld upon.

Temperantia (1872)
Edward Burke-Jones
source Wikiart
The Palmer continues to assist the horseless Guyon and lead him in the ways of temperance.  Together they approach a mad old man dragging a young man by the hair, and an old hag limping behind them shouting insults at the stripling and striking him with stones and her cane.  Her face was unpleasantly wrinkled and her hair hung down the front of her face, but a large bald patch was at the back.  Guyon is appalled and tries to free the youth, but the madman goes bezerk and the Palmer introduces him as Furor and the hag, his mother, as Occasion.  He cannot be killed by the sword, and it is best to subdue Occasion first, whereupon Guyon overpowers her, then binds Furor in chains.  
The captive man then begins to tell his story:  he once had a friend, Philemon, who betrayed him upon his pending marriage to Claribell, implying that his fiancée was not faithful.  He tricked him by setting up a scenario where Philemon seduced a maid, Pyrene, who was pretending to be Claribell (yes, this is the same plot as in Much Ado About Nothing). Enraged, the man killed Claribell, and when Pyrene confessed all, he also dispatched Philemon with poison.  The two find that the man’s name is Phaon from the house of Coradin, and the Palmer begins to counsel temperance, when they are interrupted by a squire, Atin, who is looking for Occasion for his own master Pyrocles, who loves battle and war.  The Palmer is shocked that someone would look for an occasion to fight since occasion will find you without the looking. Guyon agrees, and the squire, in pique, shoots a dart at them before running off.
Canto V
Pyrochles does with Guyon fight,
And Furors chayne vnbinds
Of whom sore hurt, for his reuenge
Attin Cymochles finds.

Two Knights Fighting in a Landscape (1824)
Eugene Delacroix
source Wikiart
Pyrochles makes an appearance, riding a blood-red horse and he summarily attacks Guyon.  Guyon is fortunate enough to wound the horse, whereupon Pyrochles must fight him on foot.  The two exchange staggering, intense blows until Guyon brings his foe to his knees, then lays him out until he cries mercy for his life.  Using temperance, Guyon mediates his rage until he concedes to spare his life if he will be loyal to him.  Pyrochles is embarrassed but Guyon says he need not be, only control his rage and lust for war as it does not benefit anyone, either friend or foe.  Pyrochles frees Occasion who wants him to fight Guyon again but Furor, when freed, begins battle with Pyrochles.  When he calls on Guyon for help, the Palmer stays him, saying Pyrochles deserves his fate, but Atin thinks his master is slain and runs to tell Pyrochles’ brother, Cymochles, who is known for his feats in battle and whose lover is Acrasia, keeper of the Bower of Bliss. Finding him being petted and tended by women in the bower, Atin taunts him to embarrassment and he rushes off to avenge his brother.
Canto VI
Guyon is of immodest Merth,
led into loose desire,
Fights with Cymochles, whiles his bro-
ther burnes in furious fire.

Young Woman in a Boat (1870)
Pierre-Auguste Renoir
source Wikiart
Inflamed with rage, Cymochles comes to a river where a little boat adorned with boughs and arbours lies.
And therein sate a Ladie fresh and faire,
     Making sweet solace to her selfe alone;
     Sometimes she sung, as loud as larke in aire,
     Sometimes she laught, that nigh her breth was gone,
     Yet was there not with her else any one,
     That might to her moue cause of meriment:
     Matter of merth enough, though there were none
     She could deuise, and thousand waies inuent,
To feede her foolish humour, and vaine iolliment.
She agrees to ferry Cymochles across the river, but refuses Atin in spite of her passenger’s entreaties. Phædria, for that is her name, continues her frivolous behaviour by placing flowers in her hair and generally acting silly.  When questioned by him, she reveals they both serve Acrasia and finally she lands him on an island in Idle Lake.  With Cymochles lulled to sleep, she returns and picks up Guyon, (less the Palmer, to whom she refuses passage) who is at first polite to her, but when she begins her immodest merriment, “her dalliance he despised”.  When they land on the island, Guyon is frosted because he did not want to come there.  Cymochles awakes, finds the pair, and he battles Guyon, yet Phædria finally assuages their rage, entreating love and romance instead of war.  Guyon returns to shore and spies Atin, who soon sees a knight running for the lake.  It is Pyrochles, who thinks he is burning with fire though none can see it, and he launches himself into the lake. Atin jumps in to save him from drowning and they are both captured by the muddy waters and have to be rescued by Archimago.  Then with herbs, balms and a spell, Archimago quenches Furor’s fire.
Spell Fire
Konstantin Vasilyev
source Wikiart
There is a curious echo of appearance versus reality at Idle Lake.  The lake itself appears different to each of the characters and while Pyrochles claims he’s burning, no one can see the flames.  Is there an element of illusion that comes with intemperance?
✝ ✜ ✝ ✜ ✝ ✜ ✝ ✜ ✝ ✜ ✝ ✜ ✝ ✜ ✝ ✜ ✝ ✜ ✝ ✜ ✝ ✜ 
It’s a relief to pick up The Faerie Queene again and resume my posts.  For some reason, it seems like less effort this time.  
Phew, what drama!  The lessons of Temperance are quite easy to spot in these cantos. We’ll see how Books VII- XII progress and if Guyon is eventually tempted to intemperance.  He’s done quite well so far, better than Redcrosse I would judge, but the book is yet young.  And does Guyon ever regain his horse?
⇦  The Faerie Queen – Book I (Part II)   The Faerie Queen – Book II (Part II)  ⇨

Other Reading:

Here I Love You (Aquí Te Amo) by Pablo Neruda

I anticipate summer every year because when it arrives I have weeks where I’m able to read, read, and then read again.  I usually get at least 7 books finished during summer. This summer I finished 2 books.  Usually this outcome would frustrate me but books were replaced with people this summer and everything was as it should be.  We made some wonderful new friends, re-connected with old ones, and hopefully helped everyone’s summer be a little more meaningful, as they did ours.  It was one of the best summers in a long while.  However, now that the blissful time is over, and life is beginning again, the feeling of frustration is looming because I have so many books on-the-go, none nearly finished, and on top of it all, I feel unfocussed.  Not to mention, because of both situations, my reviews have been dwindling.

So today, I’ve decided to step back into the enchanted summer memories and share a poem, that I discovered on vacation, by the Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda.  So many of his poems bring in evocative images of the sea and nature, which are irresistible to me. And, of course, I spend most of the summer by the sea and nature, so it’s no wonder I feel an affinity with his poetry.

Pine Forest in Vyatka Province (1872)
Ivan Shishkin
source Wikiart

Here I Love You by Pablo Neruda

Here I love you.

In the dark pines the wind disentangles itself.
The moon glows like phosphorous on the vagrant waters.
Days, all one kind, go chasing each other.
The snow unfurls in dancing figures.
A silver gull slips down from the west.
Sometimes a sail. High, high stars.
Oh the black cross of a ship.
Sometimes I get up early and even my soul is wet.
Far away the sea sounds and resounds.
This is a port.
Here I love you.

Here I love you and the horizon hides you in vain.
I love you still among these cold things.
Sometimes my kisses go on those heavy vessels
that cross the sea towards no arrival.
I see myself forgotten like those old anchors.
The piers sadden when the afternoon moors there.
My life grows tired, hungry to no purpose.
I love what I do not have. You are so far.
My loathing wrestles with the slow twilights.
But night comes and starts to sing to me.
The moon turns its clockwork dream.
The biggest stars look at me with your eyes.
And as I love you, the pines in the wind
want to sing your name with their leaves of wire.

Pablo Neruda
trans. W.S. Merwin

Sunset At Sea (1853)
Ivan Aivazovsky
source Wikiart
Aquí te amo by Pablo Neruda
Aquí te amo.
En los oscuros pinos se desenreda el viento.
Fosforece la luna sobre las aguas errantes.
Andan días iguales persiguiéndose.
Se desciñe la niebla en danzantes figuras.
Una gaviota de plata se descuelga del ocaso.
A veces una vela. Altas, altas, estrellas.
O la cruz negra de un barco.
A veces amanezco, y hasta mi alma está húmeda.
Suena, resuena el mar lejano.
Este es un puerto.
Aquí te amo.
Aquí te amo y en vano te oculta el horizonte.
Te estoy amando aun entra estas frías cosas.
A veces van mis besos en esos barcos graves,
que corren por el mar hacia donde no llegan.
Ya me veo olvidado como estas viejas anclas.
Son más tristes los muelles cuando atraca la tarde.
Se fatiga mi vida inútilmente hambrienta.
Amo lo que no tengo. Estás tú tan distante.
Mi hastío forcejea con los lentos crepúsculos.
Pero la noche llena y comienza a cantarme.
La luna hace girar su rodaje de sueño.
Me miran con tus ojos las estrellas más grandes.
Y como yo te amo, los pinos en el viento,
quieren cantar tu nombre con sus hojas de alambre.

Sea View By Moonlight (1878)
Ivan Aivazovsky
source Wikiart

I absolutely love the image of the wind disentangling itself.  Neruda uses so few words but conveys the intricacy and greatness of the ocean ……..  the desolate feeling of not only the landscape, but of the absence of his lover.  Whom of us hasn’t know the ache of either unrequited love or the anguish that comes from the separation of love?  Yet he doesn’t leave the reader without encouragement:  still the night sings to him and he loves on.

My favourite line in this poem?  “Sometimes I get up early and even my soul is wet.”  I can’t describe it, but I can feel it.  Amazing.

So this lovely poem was part of my minuscule summer reading, and I thought I’d share it, wrapping up a memory of the past to take into the future …..

The Faerie Queene ~ Book I (Part II)

The Faerie Queene

Book 1
The Legende of the Knight of the Red Crosse
Of Holinesse


So far this is proving a much more difficult read than anticipated.  It does get easier as you get used to the style and delivery, but there is so much information and I do want to cover as much as I can in my reviews in case I never read it again.  I mean I want to read it again, but right now it’s rather exhausting.  Cantos I to VI introduced us to the Redcrosse Knight and Una, documenting Redcrosse’s descent into sin and Una’s unwavering faith in him.  The following cantos conclude Book I.


Canto VII
The Redcrosse knight is captive made
By Gyaunt proud opprest,
Prince Arthur meets with Vna great-
ly with those newes distrest.
When Duessa returns to the House of Pride to find Redcrosse gone, she hurries quickly after him and finds him near a fountain, resting in the shade. Using her manipulative wiles, she reproaches him for his dissertion and soon all is well between them. However, this fountain is not a regular fountain but a nymph cursed by the goddess Diana for laziness, and anyone who drinks of it will suffer faintness and lose his strength.  Is the spiritual lethargy of the nymph a parallel to the spiritual laziness of Redcrosse as he allows himself to be drawn further away from Truth?   In any case, of course Redcrosse drinks from the fountain and is soon content to sit chat though his strength fades and he becomes careless of his reputation.  Suddenly a great noise is heard and the earth trembles, as a giant, Orgoglio emerges from the wood.  Redcrosse has no time to take up his armour or weapons but Duessa pleads with the giant, promising them both as slaves in exchange for his good treatment.  He takes Duessa, seating her on a monster with seven heads, but throws Redcrosse into the dungeon.  The Dwarf, however, has seen all and gathering up his master’s armour and departs, whereupon he meets Una on the road flying from the lecherous Paynim.  Seeing the Dwarf, she nearly faints and the Dwarf, equally unhappy, must help her recover to tell his tale of Redcrosse. Although his words almost tear her heart in two, she gains control and they set off together, soon coming across a knight with a gorgous diamond shield, who wishes to help her.  After spurning his assistance, she finally relates her story of her father and mother being held captive by the dragon, her travels to the court of Gloriana, the Faerie Queene, for help, and her hero Redcrosse who has been diverted and now is captive of the giant.  This knight, whom we believe is King Arthur, pledges to help Una in her distress.
Canto VIII
Faire virgin to redeeme her deare
brings Arthur to the fight:
Who slayes the Gyant, wounds the beast,
and strips Duessa quight.
Una and Arthur search for Redcrosse and with the Dwarf’s help, soon arrive at the castle of the Giant. Bringing out a gold-tasselled magic horn, he blows, all the doors of the castle fly open, and the Giant investigates.  They fight, and as the giant, Orgoglio, misses with a club-strike, Arthur turns and lops off his arm.  Duessa, on her monster, rushes to his aid, but when she is blocked by Arthur’s squire, she puts a spell on him and sends her monster to finish him off.  Rushing to his aid, Arthur strikes off one of the heads of the monster and:
“His monstrous scalpe downe to his teeth it tore,
And that misformed shape mis-shaped more;
A sea of bloud gusht from the gaping wound,
That her gay garments staynd with filthy gore,
And ouerflowed all the field around;
That ouer shoes in bloud he waded on the ground.”
Enraged, the giant attacks again, knocking Arthur to the ground but, behold, the knight unveils his shield and everyone is hit with a most wondrous, brilliant brightness which dazes the giant and Arthur is able to cut off his leg, then his head, where on his death, Orgoglio vanishes.  Grief manifests in anger in Duessa as:
“Her golden cup she cast vnto the ground,
And crowned mitre rudely threw aside;
such percing griefe her stubborne hart did wound,
That she could not endure that dolefull stound, 
But leauing all behind her, fled away.”
But the squire halted her flight and brought her back to his master.  In contrast, Una is all composure and modesty:
“The royall Virgin, which beheld from farre,
In pensiue plight, and sad perplexitie,
The whole achieuement of this doutfull warre,
Came running fast to greet his victorie,
With sober gladnesse, and myld modestie,
And with sweet ioyous cheare him thus bespake;
Faeire brauch of noblesse, flowre of cheualrie,
That with your worth the world amazed make,
How shall I quite the paines, ye suffer for my sake?”
Arthur goes off in search of Redcrosse and discovers an old wizened man, the giant’s foster-father, with a ring of keys about him.  Strangely, he is always looking backwards instead of forwards, and will not answer any of Arthur’s questions.  Finally, in frustration, Arthur takes the keys and begins to search the dungeons finding the remains of children and the blood of Christians in its depths.  Redcrosse is discovered but he is wan and weak, although in spite of his appearance, Una is overjoyed to see him.  Instead of killing Duessa, they strip her of her garments and, when naked, they find she is an ugly old hag.  Spenser’s description is appalling:
“Her craftie head was altogether bald,
     And as in hate of honorable eld,
    Was ouergrowne with scurfe and filthy scald;
    Her teeth out of her rotten gummes were feld,
    And her sowre breath abhominably smeld;
    Her dried dugs, like bladders lacking wind,
    Hong downe, and filthy matter from them weld;
    Her wrizled skin as rough, as maple rind,
So scabby was, that would haue loathd all womankind.
Ugh!  Duessa flees to the wilds to hide herself and our knights and lady rest at the castle.
Canto IX
His loues and lignage Arthur tells
The knight knit friendly bands;
Sir Treuisan flies from Despayre,
Whom Redcrosse kight withstands.
Before they leave the castle, Una begs Arthur to share his history.  He was raised by an old man named Timon who, in his youth, was concerned with battles and bravery but later became wise, and he raised Arthur to know virtue.  Merlin was also his mentor, but the wizard would not disclose his parentage, only revealing that he was son and heir to a king.  Una wants to know why he is in Faery land, but Arthur does not know, only that he has a wound that bleeds and perhaps there is an eternal reason for his presence which he does not understand.  He has been looking for his lady-love, a Queen of the Faeries, whom he is not sure is real or a dream.  Una and Redcrosse wish him well in his journeys, they exchange gifts, Arthur giving a potion that can heal all wounds, and Redcrosse bestowing on his benefactor a book to save souls.  They then part, although Una is uncertain whether Redcrosse is fit for battle.
But heavens, what should come upon them but a fleeing Knight, looking behind him as if the hounds of hell were on his heels, with a rope hanging from his neck.  Redcrosse forces the Knight, Sir Trevisan, to stop and tell his story.  He was travelling with another knight, Sir Terwin, who was suffering from unrequited love.  One day they met with a terrible villain called Despaire, who played on their griefs and tried to convince them to kill themselves, Sir Terwin with a knife and the Knight with a rope.  With Terwin, Despaire succeeded, but the Knight, Trevisan, fled in terror.  Redcrosse is puzzled over the power of Despaire’s words, but the Knight explains the subtlety of Despaire, how he stealthily weakens one’s power.  Undaunted, they find the cave of Despaire and Redcrosse confronts him, whereupon Despaire gives a long speech on life and wonders why Redcrosse would want to prolong it, since it is full of suffering and the longer one lives the more chance he has to sin.  Death is the end of woes and shouldn’t we all welcome it?  Redcrosse is moved by the speech, so Despaire shows him damn’d ghosts and torments of hell-fire suffering.  Unable to bear it, Redcrosse is about to end his life when Una flies into the fray, snatching the knife from his hand, and chiding him for his weakness; she can see right through this monster.  Despaire, knowing he has lost the battle, attempts to kill himself, but he cannot die until the world has ended.
Una is awesome!
Canto X

Her faithfull knight faire Una brings
to house of Holinesse,
Where he is taught repentance, and
the way to heauenly blesse.


Una decides to take Redcrosse to the house of a woman named Caelia, a place of virtue and tranquility, where upon reaching it, they are guided inside by a happy franklin named Zele, and a squire.  Una and Caelia embrace, overjoyed to see each other, although Caelia is surprised to see Redcrosse, as few find them on this narrow path. Her daughters, Fidelia and Speranza, enter, the former in white and carrying a gold cup of wine and water, and the latter clad in blue, yet not so happy as her sister as she holds a silver anchor as she prays.  After a rest, Redcrosse is taken to be instructed by Fidelia in good virtuous conduct and the avoidance of sin.  Yet when the knight begins to despair at his poor behaviour, he is comforted by Speranza (hope), however he still desires death. Una, concerned at his mental state, finds a “Leech” called Patience, and thus Redcrosse begins the healing of his sin, while Amendment, Penance, Remorse, and Repentance subject him to painful, but purifying, experiences.  Una feels his every pain as she sees his struggles but patience wins out, and when his conscience is cured, they visit another sister, Charissa, who has just gone through childbirth. From her, Redcrosse learns of love and righteousness and also is schooled by another woman, Mercy, in the art of graciousness and liberality.

Redcrosse is taken to a Hospital of holiness where seven bearded men have given their lives and service to the heavenly king.  The eldest, the Guardian, has charge and government of the house; the Almer feeds the hungry; the master of the wardrobe distributes the clothes and if he has none, he’d gives his own; the man who assists prisoners and pays their ransom; the man who comforts the sick, especially at the end of their lives; the one who ensures that the dead have a proper burial; and a man who aids the widows and orphans, supplying their needs.  Redcrosse rests there awhile and then climbs a hill to a chapel where an old man, Contemplation, is praying ceaselessly. Grudgingly, Contemplation agrees to help Redcrosse and takes him to a glorious mountain from which they view the City of God.  It is Jerusalem, although Redcrosse notes that while Cleopolis, the city of the Faerie Queene is very fair, it is earthly and cannot compare to the heavenly realms.  Redcrosse is now ready to complete his task, and when he has, Contemplation instructs him to return and he will be dubbed Saint George.  Redcrosse does not feel equal to the task, but the old man reminds him of his promise.  When Redcrosse returns, Una is overjoyed to see him and they take leave of the House of Holiness.


Canto XI

The knight with that old Dragon fights
two dayes incessantly;
The third him ouerthrown, and gayns
most glorious victory.

Thinking of her parents, the two approach the kingdom, where they soon spy the dragon lying on a hill.  Noting their approach, he rouses himself, whereupon Redcrosse sends Una up a hill to watch the battle, and the narrator is so unsettled that he calls on his Muse for help with his narration.  The dragon is as vast as many tracts of land, his scaly body “swolne with wrath, & poyson, & with bloudy gore.”  His wings were like the sails of ships, his tail thick, long and pointed with stings, and his mouth and jaws ….. well, let Spenser tell it:

“….. But his most hideous head my toung to tell,
       Does tremble: for his deepe deuouring iawes
      Wide gaped, like the griesly mouth of hell,
Through which into this dark abisse all rauin fell.

And that more wondrous was, in either iaw
     Three ranckes of yron teeth enraunged were,
     In which yet trickling bloud and gobbets raw
     Of late deuoured bodies did appeare,
     That sight thereof bred cold congealed feare:
     Which to increase, and all atonce to kill,
     A cloud of smoothering smoke and sulphur scare
     Out of his stinking gorge forth steemed still,
That all the ayre about with smoke and stench did fill.”

Charging, he bounds almost in joy at his “guest”, and while Redcrosse tries to spear him, the weapon cannot pierce his scaly skin.  The dragon becomes annoyed that he cannot strike the knight and grasps Redcrosse and his horse, carrying them away, but finds them too heavy and lands upon the ground.  Redcrosse finally manages to gain a hit on the dragon’s wing, enraging the beast, who is unused to such treatment.  Bleeding profusely, the dragon hits Redcrosse’s horse and unseats the knight, who tries to strike the dragon on the head, but does not manage to wound the beast.  The dragon sends a stream of fire, searing Redcrosse in his armour.  “Faint, wearie, sore, emboyled, grieued, brent with heat and toil, sounds, armes, smart, & inward fire”, the knight is so injured that he wishes for death, finally falling backwards into something he never expected:

“… Behind his backe vnweeting, where he stood,
     Of auncient time there was a springing well,
     From which fast trickled forth a siluer flood,
     Full of great vertues, and for med’cine good.
     Whylome, before that cursed Dragon got 
     That happie land, and all with innocent blood
     Defyld those sacred waues, it rightly hot
The well of life, ne yet his vertues had forgot.”

Una fears for her knight’s life as he lays there overnight, and she prays for his recovery. How astounded she is in the morning to see him spring from the well, and not only is his body renewed and strengthened, his blade as well, but from what cause is not certain. He strikes the dragon on the skull, making a gaping wound.  The dragon hits Redcrosse with his tail, stabbing him in his shoulder, whereupon Redcrosse answers by amputating the dragon’s tail.  Infuriated, the dragon flies up, then down, grasping the knight’s shield with his claws, but Redcrosse manages to cut off the claws but the foot still holds.  The dragon shoots flames again, and Redcrosse retreats, slipping on some mud into another saviour from death, the tree of life.  Another night passes, with Una devotely praying, and Redcrosse again is renewed in the morning.  The dragon tried to devour Redcrosse with a wide open maw, but Redcrosse stabs him through the mouth, killing the beast, and its fall is so terrible that both Una and Redcrosse are stunned until he realizes his victory, and Una gives thanks to God.


Canto XII

Faire Una to the Redcrosse knight
betrouthed is with joy:
Though false Duessa it to barre
her false sleights doe imploy.


A watchman tells the King and Queen about the fall of the dragon.  The kingdom rejoices to be released from the terror of the beast, thanking Redcrosse and throwing laurels at his feet while dancing around.  Music fills the air as the maidens crown Una, a virgin fair.  Yet the people’s fear of the dragon keeps them from approaching to close to it, in case its death is not complete.  The king bestows Redcrosse with gifts of ivory and gold and thanks, kisses his daughter and brings both to the palace while the people sing and strew garments at their feet.  There is a feast where Redcrosse recounts his adventures.  The king sheds a tear, not knowing whether to bestow praise or pity on his deliverer but counsels rest.  Yet Redcrosse cannot accept any repose because he owes six years of his service to The Faerie Queene, but the king proclaims that when the six years are over Redcrosse will return to take Una’s hand in marriage and his kingdom. Una enters, appearing like a fresh flower as she’s shed the black garments and veil, and Redcrosse has never seen her more beautiful.  However, a messenger runs in, reading a letter from Duessa/Fidessa stating that Redcrosse is unable to marry Una as he is pledged to her.  Redcrosse sits astonished without a word, but finally the king demands an explanation.  Redcrosse proclaims his innocence, as he was tricked by the false and wicked woman, when he had strayed from the right path.  Una supports his story, and claims the messenger is Archimago himself.  They grab and bind him, and put him in the dungeon, then the king binds Una to Redcrosse with sacred vows and holy water.  The feasting commences, with music and jollity.  Redcrosse’s blissful time with Una lasts long, until he remembers his vow to The Faerie Queene and Una mourns his leaving.

Here is a chart of some of the characters and the symbolism within each, which I found very helpful:


Characters_           _Moral_       _Religious and      _Personal and
                                         Spirtual_           Political_

Redcross Knight Holiness Reformed England St George

Una Truth True Religion

Prince Arthur Magnificence, or Protestantism, or Lord Leicester
Private Virtue the Church Militant

Gloriana Glory Spirtual Beauty Queen Elizabeth

Archimago Hypocrisy The Jesuits Phillip II of Spain

Duessa Falsehood False Religion Mary Queen of Scots,
Church of Rome

Orgoglio Carnal Pride Antichrist Pope Sixtus V

The Lion Reason, Reformation by Force Henry VIII,
Natural Honor Civil Government

The Dragon Sin The Devil, Satan Rome and Spain

Sir Satyrane Natural Courage Law and Order Sir John Perrott
in Ireland

The Monster Avarice Greed of Romanism Romish Priesthood

Corceca Blind Devotion, Catholic Penance Irish Nuns

Abessa Flagrant Sin Immorality Irish Nuns

Kirkrapine Church Robbery Religious State Irish Clergy
of Ireland and Laity

Sansfoy Infidelity

Sansjoy Joylessness Pagan Religion The Sultan and
the Saracens

Sansloy Lawlessness

The Dwarf Prudence,
Common Sense

Sir Trevisan Fear

The Squire Purity The Anglican Clergy

The Horn Truth The English Bible

Lucifera Pride, Vanity Woman of Babylon Church of Rome

source:  www.archive.org

Rather than summarize the allegory and symbolism, which other readers have done much more adequately than I, instead I’ll note some questions and observations that I had during the reading of Book I.

  • First, and perhaps most importantly, while Redcrosse was actually fighting “real” characters, in effect the fight was within himself.  This is a good lesson for everyone: as difficult as our practical struggles of life may be, our “fight” to gain a righteous character should feel much more arduous.  It’s also important to use discernment, which Redcrosse shows little of at the start, leading him into sin and problems.
  • While Una represents Truth, she does not have control of the situations.  She always hopes yet must lean upon God.
  • Prince Arthur:  okay, he represents private virtue and Protestantism, but he also does not know his true parents.  How does this affect his allegorical and symbolic significance?  Will a revelation occur later in the poem?
  • There is definite tension (and confusion) between appearance and reality until Redcrosse realizes his own human inadequacy and relies on spiritual guidance.
  • Redcrosse has overcome the Dragon, yet the dragon is “sin”, and we cannot be free from sin until we leave this world; will “sin” pop up again in future books?  I would think so.
  • Redcrosse’s three day battle with the dragon, parallels Christ’s three day crucifixion to resurrection, his bath in the well of life parallels Baptism, and his healing at the tree of life, the Eucharist.
  • If the poem is partly a treatise in favour of Protestantism and against Catholicism, why does the king use holy water as he binds the couple?


The Faerie Queene ~ Book I (Part I)

The Faerie Queene

Book 1
The Legende of the Knight of the Red Crosse
Of Holinesse
Canto I
The Patron of true Holinesse,
Foule Errour doth defeate:
Hypocrisie him to entrape,
Doth to his home entreate.
At the behest of the Faerie Queene, the Gentle Knight, or Redcrosse Knight, sets out with his companion, Una, a daughter of a king, who is riding an ass and leading a small lamb.  His quest is to slay a terrible Dragon, that is holding Una’s parents captive. Accompanied by a Dwarf as a servant, the travellers come upon a fierce storm and are forced to take shelter in a forest bower for the night.  When morning dawns, they fear that they have lost their way until they come upon a cave.  Una cautions the Knight, fraught with fearful doubts and premonitions of this den, but the Knight will not heed and enters, “full of fire and greedy hardiment”.  Inside he discovers a terrible monster, Error, surrounded by her young.  He commences a battle:
“Therewith she spewd out of her filthy maw
      A floud of poyson horrible and blacke,
      Full of great lumpes of flesh and gobbets raw,
      Which stunck so vildly, that is forst him slacke
      His grasping hold, and from her turne him backe:
      Her vomit full of bookes and papers was,
      With loathly frogs and toades, which eyes did lacke,
      And creeping sought way in the weedy gras:
Her filthy parbreake all the place defiled has.”
At Una’s urging, he lops off the head of the monster, whereupon her young engorge themselves with her blood until they burst asunder.  (Are you feeling queasy yet?)  Una and the Knight proceed to look for the right path again, and wander until they come upon an old man, a hermit who takes them to an inn to sleep.  Unbeknownst to our pair, this hermit is the sorcerer, Archimago, and with his magic he conjures up two spirits to beguile our Knight.  One gives the Knight dreams of lust and the other takes the shape of Una offering a kiss when he wakes, yet the Knight resists the temptation.  
Canto II
The guilefull great Enchaunter parts
The Redcrosse Knight from Truth:
Into whose stead faire falsehood steps,
And workes him wofull ruth.

Nonplussed, Archimago puts a sprite in the guise of a young man into bed with Una, and takes the Knight to them upon his waking.  Furious that she has played him so false, the Knight rides off without his lady, and when she discovers his desertion, rides after him, both followed by Archimago disguised as the Redcrosse Knight.
Redcrosse comes across a Saracen Knight travelling with his lady, the daughter of an emperor.  They fight, Redcrosse kills the Knight, Sansfoy, and assumes responsibility for the lady, Fidessa.  Attempting to escape the heat of the sun, they seek the shade of some trees, but when the Knight breaks off a branch, to his horror blood drips from the stem.  A voice informs him that he has injured Fradubio, a knight who had been travelling with his lady, Fraelissa.  Meeting with another knight with his lady, Duessa, he’d fought the knight killing him and took Duessa to his care, not knowing that she was a witch.  Duessa casts a spell, making Fraelissa ugly but one night Fradubio saw Duessa as the monster she was and horrified, he fled but Duessa transformed him into a tree; the spell could only be lifted by him being bathed in “a living well”.  Unbeknownst to the Redcrosse Knight, his new companion is actually Duessa in disguise.
Canto III
Forsaken Truth long seekes he loue,
And makes the Lyon mylde,
Marres blind Deuotions mar, and fals
In hand of Leachour vylde.

Una and the Lion
Briton Rivière
source Wikipedia

Una still wanders, searching for her absent Knight and upon sleeping in the forest, is attacked by a Lion.  However, the Lion is arrested by her beauty and becomes her protector instead.  When they come across a girl carrying water, the girl flees but they follow her to her house and force themselves inside for shelter.  The girl, Abessa, has a blind Catholic mother, Corceca and as the house is asleep, her lover, who is a thief, breaks the door in whereupon the lion kills him, ripping him into tiny pieces.    Una leaves in the morning but the two women set out after her to accuse her of the crime, however they meet Archimago disguised as Redcrosse and inform him of the circumstances.  Archimago finds Una who is overjoyed to discover her “Knight”. Suddenly Sansloy, the brother of the slaughtered Sansfoy, approachs and fights with Archimago, nearly killing him until the magician reveals himself. Una, realizing Archimago’s perfidy, is caught by Sansloy, the Lion is killed by him and Una is at his mercy.
Canto IV
To sinfull house of Pride, Duessa
guides the faithfull knight,
Where brothers death to reak Sansloy
doth chalenge him to fight.
Redcrosse and Duessa/Fidessa come upon a lovely and princely palace, the sinful House of Pride; while it appears stately and magnificent, it is constructed in a weak and ruinous fashion, its foundation unstable.  They enter a large hall were numerous people are gathered and the lady of the palace sits on a throne, her beauty as bright as the sun, but her feet rest on a terrible Dragon.  The Knight and Witch are mistaken for royalty and taken to the front by Vanity, but Redcrosse is uncomfortable with the proceedings.  The lady Queen, Lucifera, daughter of Pluto and Prosperina, decides to take a ride in her chariot.  She is not royalty, but is counselled by six wizards and the chariot is pulled by six beasts which they ride.  The first advisor is Idleness, who rides a donkey and is lazy, lawless, and shaking with a fever; riding on a pig comes Gluttony, eating and drinking like one and is useless for anything; now, Lechery sate upon a bearded goat, disgusting looking but drawing weak women into his spell with his outward talents, yet he suffers the sexual disease of the philanderer; Avarice rides on a camel laden with gold which is his god, however he is ill-dressed, thin from want of food, and sad nonetheless; a ravenous wolf carries Envy with a serpent in his bosom, hate for virtue and joy for pain, he is jealous of his own company and despises Poets no less; Wrath rides on a lion, this counsellor completely lacking self-control and allowing anger to overcome him —- even while he regrets his ungovernable rage, he cannot overcome it and bloodshed and strife follow in his wake; and Sathan (Satan) sits on the wagon beam whipping them all. While Duessa stays close to Lucifera, Redcrosse stays back not wishing to be part of this unsettling sight, but Sansjoy arrives wanting to battle to revenge his brother.  The Queen tells them to fight on the morrow.  There is feasting that night but later Duessa creeps to Sansfoy’s chamber to pledge her loyalty to him.  
Canto V
The faithfull knight in equall field
subdewes his faithlesse foe,
Whom false Duessa saues, and for
 his cure to hell does go.

Both Redcrosse and Sansfoy prepare for their battle.  Both knights are strong and dangerous, but Sansfoy has his brother’s shield and memory to spur him on.  The victor is uncertain until Redcrosse finally is about to slay his enemy, however Sansfoy is covered in a cloud.  Puzzled, Redcrosse searches for his foe but the trumpet sounds his victory and he presents the shield of Sansjoy to the Queene, then goes to have his wounds tended.  A distraught Duessa leaves to find Night and ask why she has allowed her dear nephews (the three Sans– brothers) to be in peril.  Night is confused with her concern until she recognized her foul “sister” and she agrees to help Sansfoy.  They find the knight and take him to the Underworld, where Aesculapius, the god of medicine is exiled by Jove for bringing Hippolytus back to life.  Because of his sentence, he is hesitant to help them but finally acquiesces.  Redcrosse learns from the Dwarf that there are hundreds of bodies in the dungeons of the castle, many of them powerful rulers, all victims of Pride, and he leaves to escape that fate.  Duessa finds him gone when she returns.
Canto VI
From lawlesse lust by wondrous grace
fayre Una is releast:
Whom saluage nation does adore,
and learnes her wise beheast.

Una and the Satyrs – Art UK

Redcrosse is upset to have left Duessa behind, but he is even more conflicted over Una and her duplicity.  Una, however, is in a vile predicament as Sansloy means to have his lustful way with her.  In distress, she calls out for help and is answered by Fauns and Satyrs, who terrifies Sansloy so that he flees for his life.  They bow down before Una, then dance around her with gladness and joy, crowning her as Queen with an olive garland.  They take her to their leader, Sylvanus, who is amazed at their joy and Una’s beauty.  Staying with them for a time, she tried to deflect their worship, but when restrained, they worshiped her ass instead.  A knight, a satyr’s son named Satyrane, famed for his courage and his control over the beasts, helps Una to escape her admirers and continue her search for Redcrosse.  They meet a silly travelling pilgrim who informs them of Redcrosse’s death, whereupon Una nearly faints, but recovers to hear his story. The pilgrim informs them that the Paynim, Sansloy, is nearby, so Satyrane finds him and challenges him.  The two fight but when Sansloy sees Una he tries to pursue her but is prevented by his foe.  Una flees far from her lustful enemy, but the Pilgrim sees her go and pursues her.  Yikes!  It is not a pilgrim, but the evil Archimago!  What will happen to Una?

     “But for to tell her lamentable cace,
And eke this battels end, will need another place.”

✞ ✞ ✞ ✞ ✞ ✞ ✞ ✞ ✞ ✞ ✞ ✞ ✞ ✞ ✞ ✞ ✞ ✞ ✞ ✞ ✞ ✞ ✞ ✞ ✞ ✞ ✞
Oh, my!  This poem is very challenging and moves very slowly.  It’s obviously going to take much longer than anticipated, and I’m going to have to split my Book posts into part 1 and part 2, so as not to overwhelm myself and others.  Each of the six books has twelve cantos each, so if I split it 6/6, that should do it!  However, June does not seem to be an attainable finish date, nevertheless I will push ahead and see what transpires.
So far I’m really enjoying the poem.  I’m listening to the Librivox recording by Thomas Copeland while I read and it’s very helpful for understanding.  So far, I can see some similarities to Le Morte d’Arthur, but I also hear echoes of Dante.  There is really so much in this poem that can work on so many different levels.  Right now, I’m merely concentrating on understanding what’s happening but when I get more accustomed to it, I hope to be able to delve deeper.  And if I have any energy left after summarizing the cantos, perhaps I’ll even write about it too!

Metamorphoses by Ovid

“My soul would sing of metamorphoses.
but since, o gods, you were the source of these
bodies becoming other bodies, breathe
your breath into my book of changes: may
the song I sing be seamless as its way
weaves from the world’s beginning to our day.”

Publius Ovidius Naso was born in Sulmo, east of Rome in the year 43 B.C.  As a son of an upper middle class family, his father sent him to be educated in Rome to distinguish himself in a career in law or government.  Ovid was known as an exemplary rhetorician and worked at minor magisterial posts before quitting his public career to pursue poetry. Immediate success followed his first published elegy and by 8 A.D., the year in which Metamorphoses was published, he was one of the foremost poets of Rome.

Suddenly, in the same year, the emperor Augustus Caesar banished Ovid from Rome, and the poet went into exile in Tomis on the Black Sea.  The only clues we have to his exile is from Ovid himself where he refers to his carmen, or songs, and his error, or indiscretion.  Speculations abounds as to these two causes.  His poem Ars Amatoria, or The Art of Love, was a poetic manual on seduction and intrigue, which Augustus may have viewed as corrosive to the moral structure of Roman society, and may very well be the carmen of his sentence.  Rome, at that time, was experiencing a period of instability and Augustus was attempting to re-establish traditional religious ceremonies and reverence of the gods, encouraging people to marry, have children, and making adultery illegal.  Ovid’s earlier poetry espoused extra-marital affairs and Metamorphoses is ripe with a very pronounced, and oftimes strange, sexual element in the myths recounted. The treatment of the gods is not reverential and perhaps it wasn’t surprising that Augustus wished to rid himself of the popular poet.  Lamenting his exile in his poem Tristia and Epistulae ex Ponto (letters to friends asking for help with his return),  Ovid died in Tomis in 17 A.D.

Ruins of Tomis
source Wikipedia

Along with O at Behold the Stars, Cirtnece at Mockingbirds, Looking Glasses and Prejudices … and Jean of Howling Frog Books, I began to read Metamorphoses in January and what a read it has been!  Here are links to my posts for all of the fifteen books of Metamorphoses:

Book I / Book II / Book III / Book IV / Book V / Book VI / Book VII / Book VIII / Book IX / Book X / Book XI / Book XII / Book XIII / Book XIV / Book XV 

In Metamorphoses (Metamorphōseōn librī), or Book of Transformations, Ovid relates over 200 transformations.  Composed in the epic meter of dactylic hexameter, as a whole, Ovid’s tales don’t appear to follow an obvious chronological order:  stories break off and are continued in other books; some stories wrap back around on themselves, there is a curious lack of important detail in some (which we know from other sources); and often there are stories nested within stories told in a media res format.  Even how Ovid relates his stories speak of flux and change.

The tales themselves offer a smattering of myths from Greek and Roman legend, including Cadmus, Perseus, Jason, Theseus, Hercules, the heroes of Troy and Julius Caesar, although the narratives can also include mortals and lesser deities.  Murder, rage, hubris, affairs, rape, and judgement of the gods abound in his tales, leaving the reader shocked, disgusted, enamoured, sad, engrossed, irritated, and often, conflicted; Ovid can provoke a myriad of emotions within the same story, evidence of the efficacy of his writing.

Ovid Banished from Rome (1838)
J.M.W. Turner
source Wikimedia Commons

While Metamorphoses is our primary source for some myths, such as Apollo and Daphne, Phaeton, and Narcissus, the playful and ironic tone of the work suggests that we can’t always take Ovid seriously in his delivery, and the myths themselves could have been subject to his alterations.  In addition, the work was set out in fifteen books, rather than the usual twenty-four of the common epic standard, and certain important names and actions are missing from very important narratives, such as Dido, queen of Carthage, Jason and Medea, the Trojan War, etc.  I can’t help but feel that Ovid was writing with an agenda.  Was he perhaps attempting to “metamorphoses” the traditional epic poem, the traditional myths and the traditional religious tenor of Rome as well?

Ovid Among the Scythians (1859)
Eugène Delacroix
source Wikipedia

Yet in spite of the speculation, the graphic description, the sexual inferences, the gratuitous narrative and even the confusion, Metamorphoses is unparalleled as a literary adventure.  Ovid’s work is certainly one that has a life of its own and its owner a share of its fame.  However, as the poem ends, Ovid reveals that fame and glory were his original intent.

” ….. But with the better part of me, I’ll gain
a place that’s higher than the stars: my name,
indelible, eternal, will remain.
And everywhere that Roman power has sway,
in all domains the Latins gain, my lines
will be on people’s lips; and through all time —
if poets’ prophecies are ever right —
my name and fame are sure: I shall have life.”

While Ovid’s works went out of fashion for a time, in the late 11th century classic literature gained a new life.  Ovid’s writings began to have a significant influence on culture, the 12th century often being called The Ovidian Age.  As cathedral schools flourished in the early Middle Ages, Ovid’s work was widely read as moral allegories, with added Christian meaning.  William Caxton published the first English translation of Metamorphoses in 1480, and the poet’s influence continued, imbuing Shakespeare with many of his comparisons.  In fact, the many Ovidian allusions within Shakespeare’s works are part of what makes it difficult reading for modern day readers, unless they are familiar with this work.  Ovid certainly has approached a fame and regard worthy of a great poet, and perhaps has vindicated himself within the realms of classic literature.


An Anglo Saxon Riddle for Poetry Month

For April Poetry Month, I’ve been hunting for a poem, a haiku that I wrote when I was fifteen to post here as a personal poetry selection.  Well, so far I’ve had no luck finding it, but while searching I found a poem written by my daughter, modelled on the epic, Beowulf, so I thought I would post it instead.  She wrote it in grade 5.


An Anglo Saxon Riddle
What lives in the cool, clear whale-road
That scuttles, catching slippery sea creatures.
What do the Lords and Ladies of Spain eat
On their full-loaded tea-table.
Although hindered for lack of four feet,
This marvelous Master of the swan-road
Is a wonderful and agile athlete,
With quickness of the heath-stepper
And back like an aged tortoise-house
When the barnacled-prows enter onto
The glassy-dark water and catch this
Magnificent creature, it’s life soon ends
On a platter with a melted-milk churned bath
Of salty cream, and he thinks of his life
In the cool, clear, whale-road.


Since trying to follow the Anglo Saxon meter (which goes by stress-count [stressed syllables] rather than syllable count, which would be two main stresses in each half of a line) was beyond her at that time, instead she focussed on alliteration and kennings.

Kennings create expressive imagery, using compound words and phrases that identify nouns.  They are often colourful to generate evocative images in the mind of the reader. Because of their usual quality, kennings help the listener/reader to remember important happenings or people and also were used to avoid superfluous repetition, making the poem more developed and creative.

And as to the answer to the riddle, you can find it in the following paintings:


Nature morte au crabe (1643)
Pieter Claesz
source Wikimedia Commons
Breakfast with a Crab (1648)
Willem Claeszoon Heda
source Wikimedia Commons
Still Life (1655-59)
Pieter de Ring
source Wikimedia Commons
Tortue et crabe (c. 1656)
Paolo Porpora
source Wikimedia Commons
Still Life with shrimps and crabs on a tin plate (1641)
Alexander Adriaenssen
source Wikimedia Commons
Albrecht Dürer
source Wikimedia Commons

Link to Beowulf Read-Along

Metamorphoses ~ Book XV

Book XV

Myscelus / Pythagoras / Numa / Egeria & Hippolytus / Tages / Cipus / Aesculapius / Ceasar / Epilogue 

Claude Lorrain
source Wikimedia Commons

Numa becomes king of Rome, and since he has cemented the laws and customs of Rome, he now decides to study the laws of nature. Leaving Cures, he travels to Croton where an elder tells him the story of the founding of the city. Hercules on his way back to Croton, stopped at Cape Lacinium. As he grazed his cattle, he pronounced a prophesy that in two generations time, a city would rise on that spot, and it came to pass. Myscelus, son of Alemon, was born, loved of the gods.  One night as he slept, Hercules stood over him, commanding him to seek the distant Aesar.  Myscelus found himself in a terrible conflict.  It was forbidden him to leave his homeland on pain of death, yet Hercules had issued threats if he did not obey.  Myscelus called out to the gods for help and their vote freed him. Reaching Aesar, he established Croton, building walls about it as Hercules commanded, founding this Greek town on Italian soil.

Born on Samos, Pythagoras fled the tyranny of his island, preferring exile.  Drawing near to the gods, they gave him in his intellect, what nature had denied to sight.  He could speak of what governed the universe and was the first to condemn the eating of animals, calling it monstrous to let another die so you may live.  It is fine to kill an animal if it is spoiling your crops or dangerous, but for heaven’s sake, don’t eat it!  There is quite a diatribe supporting vegetarianism.  At the end, Pythagoras cautions:
“But if, in any case, your mouths still crave
the limbs of butchered beasts, then be aware
that you’re devouring your own laborers.”
You’ll stumble around if you lack reason, but Pythagoras will enlighten you.

He goes on to explain his idea of the principles of the universe, examining how all matter is continuously changing; there is no death only transformation.  This great thinker provides us with many examples, from people, to landforms, to the heavens.  This is the most (dare I say, only) scientific part of Metamorphoses.

Pythagoras advocating vegetarianism (1618-20)
Peter Paul Rubens
source Wikimedia Commons

When Numa learns all he is able from Pythagoras and other great thinkers, guided by the Muses, he rules the Latin state with his wife, Egeria.  He teaches the people the art of peace, as all they’ve known is war, and upon his death the populous mourns.  Egeria flees to the woods in the Aricia valley.

Weeping Egeria is confronted by Theseus’ son, Hippolytus, who urges her to stop her grieving.  He tells her of his father’s wife, Phaedra, who tried to seduce him and when he resisted, told lies about him in revenge.  A fugitive, he fled to Corinth where he came upon an enormous wave which terrified his horses.  Hurled from his chariot and dragged, he went down into the kingdom of the dead, before his life was saved by Apollo’s son, Aesculapius.  Diana hid him, renaming him Virbius in case he was recognized.  Egeria’s suffering cannot even compare to his, but she continues to weep, her piteous grief transforming her into an eternal spring with the help of Diana.

Hippolytus (1859)
Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema
source Wikimedia Commons

In an Etruscan field, a clod of earth takes human form, the augur, Tages.  He taught the people of Etruria to read the future, and Hippolytus is also amazed at how Romulus’ shaft sprouted into a tree when he placed it in the ground, offering shade to all.

Yet Hippolytus is dismayed by Cipus, who looks into the sea and views horns upon his head.  He is amazed, uncertain if the unexpected appendages augur good or evil.  An augur prophecies that he must go to Rome and rule the great city, however Cipus prefers exile to power.  He is banished from the city, but given a plot of land in consolation.

The Greek god of medicine Aesculapius

An horrendous plague breaks out in Latium with dead bodies rotting everywhere.  The people appeal to Phoebus but are told they need to seek Apollo’s son, Aesculapius (see Metamorphoses Book II). Travelling to Greece, the Roman senators ask for the god to be dispatched to Rome, relating the circumstances.  The Greek elders are divided as to how to act, but at the temple, the god himself appears in the form of a serpent.  Joining with the Romans, the Greeks worship him and the snake, hissing a blue-streak, slithers onto the Roman ship, a clear sign as to his decision.  And so the snake/god comes to Rome, the plague is lifted and all are saved.

The deeds of Caesar won him great triumph and in the end he turned into a comet. Ovid spews sycophantic praise on the man and through him, August Ceasar, his “son”, then he relates Caesar’s demise.  An hideous crime …. a sorry death …. and Venus was distraught beyond grief.  Many signs and omens appeared to expose the plot but blood was spilled in the Curia.  Ovid then links Augustus’ name with the great hero, Aeneas. One day Augustus will join his “father” in the divine realms.  Lots of spectacular rhetorical flourishes in this part, which are a bit much to take.

The Death of Caesar (1867)
Jean-Leon Gerome
source Wikiart

Ovid’s tale is now complete but for his epilogue:

” ….. But with the better part of me, I’ll gain
a place that’s higher than the stars: my name,
indelible, eternal, will remain.
And everywhere that Roman power has sway,
in all domains the Latins gain, my lines
will be on people’s lips; and through all time —
if poets’ prophecies are ever right —
my name and fame are sure: I shall have life.”

In parting, Ovid rather deifies himself, and at the same time, confirms Pythagoras’ theory: things to not die, they merely metamorphose.

❀ ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀ 

The last few chapters of Metamorphoses certainly didn’t compare to the rest of the book. They have a rather bland resonance to them, are even more uneven and disparate than the other books.  I did, however, find a quote from this book that is a wonderful description of the work as a whole:

since I am now well launched on this vast sea
and, under full sail, with kind winds, can speed,
I add:  in all this world, no thing can keep
its form.  For all things flow; all things are born
to change their shapes.  And time itself is like
a river, flowing on an endless course.
Witness: no stream and no swift moment can
relent; they must forever flow, just as
wave follows wave, and every wave is renewed.
What was is now no more, and what was not
as come to be; renewal is the lot
of time …..”

Egeria  ❥  cool, eternal spring
Caesar ❥  comet

Narnian Suite by C.S. Lewis

For my second poem during National Poetry Month, I read C.S. Lewis’ Narnian Suite.

Narnian Suite
March for Strings, Kettledrums, and Sixty-three Dwarfs
With plucking pizzicato and the prattle of the kettledrum
We’re trotting into battle mid a clatter of accoutrement;
Our beards are big as periwigs and trickle with opopanax,
And trinketry and treasure twinkle out on every part of us –
          (Scrape! Tap! The fiddle and the kettledrum).
The chuckle-headed humans think we’re only petty puppetry
And all our battle-tackle nothing more than pretty bric-a–brac;
But a little shrub has prickles, and they’ll soon be in a pickle if
A scud of dwarfish archery has crippled all their cavalry –
          (Whizz! Twang! The quarrel and the javelin).
And when the tussle thickens we can writhe and wriggle under it;
Then dagger-point’ll tickle ‘em, and grab and grip’ll grapple ‘em,
And trap and trick’ll trouble ‘em and tackle ‘em and topple ‘em
Till they’re huddled, all be-diddled, in the middle of our caperings –
          (Dodge! Jump! The wriggle and the summersault).
When we’ve scattered ‘em and peppered ‘em with pebbles from our catapults
We’ll turn again in triumph and by crannies and by crevices
Go back to where the capitol and cradle of our people is,
Our forges and our furnaces, the caverns of the earth –
          (Gold! Fire! The anvil and the smithying).
March for Drum, Trumpet, and Twenty-one Giants
                  With strumping stride in pomp and pride
                  We come to thump and floor ye;
                  We’ll bump your lumpish heads to-day
                  And tramp your ramparts into clay,
                  And as we stamp and romp and play
                  Our trump’ll blow before us –
(crescendo)     Oh tramp it, tramp it, tramp it, trumpet, trumpet blow before us!
                  We’ll grind and break and bind and take
                  And plunder ye and pound ye!
                  With trundled rocks and bludgeon blow,
                  You dunderheads, we’ll dint ye so
                  You’ll blunder and run blind, as though
                  By thunder stunned, around us –
By thunder, thunder, thunder stunned around us!
                  Ho! Tremble town and tumble down
                  And crumble shield and sabre!
                  Your kings will mumble and look pale,
                  Your horses stumble or turn tail,
                  Your skimble-scamble counsels fail,
                  So rumble drum belaboured —
(Diminuendo)     Oh rumble, rumble, rumble, rumble, rumble drum belaboured!
C.S. Lewis 
Poems (1964)
The Giant Antaeus (1868)
Gustave Doré
source Wikiart

There is not much information on this poem to quench our curiosity as to how it ties to Narnia.  Tirian in The Last Battle sings a short “Narnian marching song”, very much like it:

“Ho, rumble, rumble, rumble, rumble
Rumble drum belaboured.”

The Last Battle was finished in the spring of 1953 but not published until 1956 and Narnian Suite was written in 1953.  Perhaps Lewis simply attempted to take the original marching song and expand it.  In any case, it’s all speculation at this point; I may come up with some reference to it as I read through Lewis’ letters (yes, three huge volumes with a fourth soon to be published).

Does anyone think that this poem sounds very much like Tolkien’s poems in The Lord of the Rings?  I do, but I am reading The Lord of the Rings presently, so perhaps I have that tone lingering in my head.

Metamorphoses ~ Book XIV

Book XIV

Glaucus, Circe, Scylla / The Cercopes / The Sibyl / Achaemenides / Aeolus, Ulysses, Circe / Picus & Canens / Diomedes / The Apulian Shepherd / Aeneas’ Ships / Ardea / Aeneas / Vertumnus & Pomona / Iphis & Anaxarete / Vertumnus & Pomona / The Fountain of Janus / Romulus / Hersilia

Passing the Cyclop’s fields, Messina, and that dangerous strait that separates Ausonia and Sicily, Glaucus streaks through the Tyrrhenian sea until he reaches Circe‘s palace. He tells of her of his woe and the fleet foot of Scylla who spurs his advances, but the goddess is enraged that he can only love Scylla and not her.  Chanting infernal spells of Hecate, she heads for Rhegium across from Messina, polluting Scylla’s favourite pool with noxious poisons.  As soon as the girl immerses herself, she sees snarling barking dogs in the water.  Leaping up and running, she is astonished that she cannot escape them, finally realizing that they are part of her lower quarters.  Glaucus flees in anguish but Scylla remains, and it is she who snatched up Ulysses’ men for revenge on Circe (see The Odyssey Book XII).  She would have swallowed all the ships that passed if she hadn’t been changed into a rock, but even then, sailors fear her presence.

Tilla Durieux als Circe (1913)
Franz von Stuck
source Wikimedia Commons

When the Trojan ships pass Scylla and Charybdis, the wind pushes them back to the Libyan coast where a woman from Sidon (Dido) welcomes Aeneas.  Unable to bear his departure, when he leaves she falls on her sword, but Aeneas continues on, visiting Acestes at Eryx, passing the rocks called the Sirens, Achelous’ daughters.  Having lost his pilot, Palinurus, he sails along barren Pythecusae (an island off the coast of Naples) where a pack of scoundrels called the Cercopes live.  They were so dishonest that the father of the gods transformed them into monkeys and their words into chatter.

Aeneas sails past Parthenope and turns westward, finding the tomb of the trumpeter Misenus.  Upon entering the Sibyl‘s grotto, he requests to cross Avernus and speak with his father’s shade.  The Sibyl reveals that because of his great virtue, she can assist him and orders him to pluck a golden bough in the forest of Persephone.  He is shown Anchises’ shade and the laws of the underworld.  Grateful, Aeneas thanks the Sibyl and offers to build her a shine but she refuses.  She could have been a goddess but she submitted to Apollo’s love and afterwards, she asked him for long life, forgetting to also ask for youth.  Thus, she will become a shrivelled form and suffer the frailties of old age.  Aeneas then sails to a shore, naming it Caieta after his old nurse.

Aeneas and the Sibyl (c. 1800)
source Wikimedia Commons

Macareus of Neritus, companion of Ulysses, had long been living on this shore and is astounded to see his friend, Achaemenides, still alive and among the Trojans.   He wants to know why his friend, a Greek, is sailing in a Trojan boat.  Achaemenides reveals that he loves Aeneas as a father because it was he who prevented him from becoming food for the Cyclops (see The Odyssey Book IX).  He saw Ulysses and his comrades sail away from the island of the Cyclops, and he would have shouted but was terrified of discovery. Watching the Cyclops cursing the Greeks, he remembered how he’d eaten his friends, and he hid, eating acorns, leaves and grass.  He finally saw a Trojan ship that took him away.  Now he wishes to hear Macareus’ story.

Macareus tells of his voyage with Ulysses and how they received a gift from king Aeolus of a sack of wind (see The Odyssey Book X).  Finally, they reached Ithaca, but greedy and curious, they released the tie and the wind rushed out, blowing them all the way back to where they’d started.  They reached the city of the Laestrygonians surrounded by the walls of Lamus, and Ulysses sent his men to reconnoitre but the inhabitants attacked them and then threw rocks at his ships from above.  Only the ship of Ulysses escaped.  Next, they landed at the isle of Circe (see The Odyssey Book X), against whom Macareus delivers a ominous warning.  They drew lots to see who would call at her door and were met by a number of beasts, but though her appearance was appealing, she slipped a drug into their drinks, transforming the men into pigs. Eurylochus escaped to warn Ulysses and although Circe attempted to charm him, he drew his sword, forcing her to change the “pigs” into men again, even as he agreed to be her husband.

Circe (1889)
Wright Barker
source Wikimedia Commons

For a year they stayed in the land of Circe.  One day her nymph showed him a snow-white marble statue of a man with a woodpecker formed on his head.  The nymph informed him that the effigy was Picus, son of Saturn.  He had been sought by all the nymphs and dryads, but he had love for only one, Canens, and she became his bride.  As beautiful as she was, she could also move the woods with her songs.  Seeing Picus hunting one day, Circe lured him into the woods and confessed her love for him but he spurned her advances.  In anger, she turned him into a woodpecker, and as his men attempted to find him, accusing her of his disappearance, she transformed them into beasts. Canens, in mournful despair, wandered searching for her husband, and finally, worn out, vanished into thin air.  The story finished, Macareus tells his listener that they prepared to leave Circe’s island, but the witch warned them of treacherous dangers, so he decided to remain behind.

Nymph (1929)
Gaston Bussière
source Wikipedia Commons

They leave the ashes of Aeneas’ nurse, Caieta, on a tomb, then set sail, next landing in Latium where ‘the Tiber’s waters pour their yellow silt into the sea’.  He is greeted by Latinus, son of Faunus, and Aeneas takes a bride, Lavinia, the daughter of Latinus. Turnus is enraged because Lavinia had been promised to him!  The battle is furious with Aeneas receiving help from Evander, but Turnus, through his man Venulus, receives a refusal of assistance from Diomedes.  Diomedes had earlier arrived at Iapygia, founded a great city and married Daunus’ daughter.  His refusal stemmed from the weakness of his troops, as they had been greatly reduced.  When Ajax had raped the priestess, Cassandra, at the end of the Trojan War, Minerva in her rage cursed the Greeks and their journeys home were fraught with peril.  Diomedes and his men were shipwrecked and Acmon scorned the goddess, causing her to turn him and almost all the rest of Diomedes’ men into a flock of birds.

Venulus continued on, passing the Peucetians and arriving in Messapians where he saw great caves.  Long ago, it had been the home of Pan, and then nymphs, but an Apulian shepherd had startled them, and as he mocked their choral dance, was changed into an olive tree.

An Olive Tree in the Garden of Gethsemane (1882)
Vasily Polenov
source Wikiart

When Turnus learns no help from Diomedes will be forthcoming, he attacks Aeneas, reaching his ships and putting torches to them.  But Cybele recalls the timbers of Aeneas’ ships had come from her pine trees, sacred wood, and cursing Turnus, she promises their salvation.  The Mother goddess snaps their hawsers, then tilts them into the sea and they become sea-green Naiads.

There was hope that the Rutulians, seeing such power, would cease fighting but it was not to be.  Both sides, contended still, driven by courage more than the gods, and instead of brides, or dowry, or land, they fought for glory.  However Turnus fell and so did his town of Ardea; it was burned to the ground and from the ashes, a heron flew into the sky.

Ascanius, son of Aeneas, and now named Iulus (hmmm ….. sounds very similar to “Julius”) has grown to manhood and his father reaches his end.  Venus petitions Jove to grant her favourite a divinity.  When even Juno agrees, Venus flies with her harnessed doves to ensure the river-god carries the mortal parts of Aeneas to the sea, where she anoints him with ambrosia and declares him the god, Indiges.

The Purification of Aeneas in the River Numicus (1725)
Pier Leone Ghezzi
source ArtUK

Iulus is now the king of Alba.  Next in line came Silvius, then his son, Latinus, then Alba and Epytus, his son.  Capis and Capetus followed, then Tibernius who had sons Remulus and Acrotas.  Remulus was struck by lightening, so Acrotas passed the title to Aventinus and finally Proca.  The next story about Pomona, took place in the days of this king.

Pomona was a nymph who loved all gardens and orchards, but spurned all men.  The god, Vertumnus, brought her gifts but to no avail, so he craftily disguised himself as an old woman, bestowed forceful flattery upon her and told her the following story.

In Cyprus, young Iphis loved Anaxarete, but while she was from a noble family, his birth was very humble.  Continuously, he wooed her and left her gifts wet with his tears, yet she was harsh and disdainful towards him.  When his torment became long, he took a rope and hung himself from her doorway.  Wailing servants returned his corpse to his widowed mother, who was heartbroken.  As his body passed Anaxarete’s house on the way to its pyre, she leaned out the window, and when her eyes rested on Iphis, she tried to step back but couldn’t.  Her body was held fast by the stone that began in her heart and she metamorphosed into a stone statue.  Vertumnus cautioned Pomona to remember this tale, urging her to wed the one who loves her.

Vertumnus & Pomona (1617-19)
Peter Paul Rubens
source Wikipedia

Pomona was unresponsive to Vertumnus‘ pleas, but when he shed his disguise, revealing himself as a god, and prepared to take her by force, she decided that she liked him more than a little and gave herself to him.

The above story took place during the rule of Procus in Ausonia, then Numitor should have had the crown, but his false brother usurped it, his name, Aumalius.  But Numitor’s grandsons came to his aid, Romulus and Remus, and Rome was founded.  Tatius and the Sabines waged war upon the city, the treacherous Tarpeia showing them the secret route to the citadel.  They reached the gate and dispatched the sleeping sentinels, however Juno had loosed a bar to allow the gate to be opened.  Venus wished to undo her work but one god cannot undo the work of another so instead, she had the Naiads of Ausonia rush the waters of the fountain of Janus downstream, igniting the stream with burning sulfur.  The Sabines could not pass easily and the Romans had time to arm themselves. There was much slaughter before peace was declared and Tatius shared the crown.

Finding of Romulus and Remus (1720-40)
Andrea Lucatelli (credited)
source Wikimedia Commons

When Tatius dies, Romulus has sole rule and treats both the Romans and Sabines equally.  It is time for the death of Romulus and Mars asks for him to be deified. Racing down in his chariot, Mars seizes his son, and as his mortal parts dissolve, he becomes the god, Quirinius.

The wife of Romulus, Hersilia, weeps endlessly for her husband, so Juno orders Iris to fetch the woman.  She follows Iris to the Palantine hills where a star descends, lighting Hersilia’s hair and she ascends with the star, becoming the goddess Hora, who now walks with her husband.

❇ ❇ ❇ ❇ ❇ ❇ ❇ ❇ ❇ ❇ ❇ ❇ ❇ ❇ ❇ ❇ ❇ ❇ ❇

There are interesting parallels that Ovid provides us:  both Odysseus (Ulysses) and Aeneas have contact with Polyphemus, Scylla, Aeolus, the Sirens and Circe.

The verse gets less fluid towards the end of this book, with lots of changes in time and a very quick catalogue of Latin kings.  I must say I’ve enjoyed the Greek stories more, but it’s been fun to revisit some of Odysseus’ journeys through Aeneas.

Scylla’s lower body  ❥  snarling dogs
Scylla  ❥  rock
Cercopes  ❥  monkeys
Ulysses’ men  ❥  pigs
Picus  ❥  woodpecker
Picus’ men  ❥  beasts
Canens  ❥  thin air
Acmon & Diomedes’ men  ❥ swan-like birds
Apulian shepherd  ❥  olive tree
Trojan ships  ❥  sea-green Naiads
Ardea (town)  ❥  heron
Aeneas  ❥  Indiges (god)
Vertumnus (god)  ❥  Vertumnus (old woman)
Anaxarete  ❥  stone statue
Vertumnus (old woman)  ❥  Vertumnus (god)
Romulus  ❥  Quirinius (god)
Hersilia  ❥  Hora (goddess)